Slightly Mad Studios might have previously been best known for their contributions to the racing genre when working under the banner of EA for Need for Speed: Shift and Shift 2: Unleashed. Those racers brought Need For Speed into unfamiliar territory as it began leaning into simulation in a franchise that has long been regarded as an arcade style offering. While those may have been the formative years for Slightly Mad, they’ve evolved. The developers have taken a ‘slightly’ different approach to developing their latest racer, Project Cars. Shedding a publisher, funding of Project Cars was done by the community and the game’s developers. The results for Project Cars are nothing short of astounding, checking almost every box for a what racing simulation fan could hope for in 2015.
Project Cars is one of the best looking racing games I’ve ever played. Putting the likes of Forza, Gran Turismo, Driveclub, and others to shame, at least on the PC version. Slightly Mad Studios pays an incredible attention to detail in their presentation of this simulator, with meticulous car re-creation on the exterior and interior of the vehicles, real world locales and tracks that have never looked better, and all the engine revving and gear grinds that you’d expect from the sounds of a driving simulation.
While a lot of racers have kind of blurred the lines between simulation and arcade racing in recent years, it’s clear that Slightly Mad went all in as a simulation this time around. There’s no unlocks, there’s no waiting to play this track or that one, everything is unlocked from the very beginning and offers a unique take on the racing career mode. Focusing on qualifying, test-runs, and tuning of the vehicle you’ve selected within a specific class to get the best performance out of it on a track by track, lap by lap basis. Racing through seasons, you’ll be given the opportunity to race for new teams with different vehicles and classes of cars. You’ll hit career milestones, win and lose races, and you’ll be invited to special events outside of what may be going on in your current season. Unlike many career modes, Project Cars puts you in a capable vehicle from the very start, against tough competition in your class. Each second counts, and you’ll absolutely need to race qualifying rounds for better starting positions. Career mode feels pretty robust, and starts out with a bang rather than the wimper that most racers do. The career feels like a more realistic take on the career of a driver than many other racing games have in the past.
Outside of career there’s a bunch of other ways to play. In Solo mode you can test and tune any track or car to your liking, attempt time challenges, participate in community events once they go live on release, or jump into an online lobby for head to head action. Interestingly enough these solo modes allow for a lot of customization. While you will find it in the Career Mode as well, dynamic weather is some of the most beautiful visuals that Project Cars has to offer. Allowing races to be staged with varying weather effects that covers just about every scenario outside of snow and ice. Racing in extreme storms, rainy, overcast, foggy, and clear conditions are impressive not only in the visuals but in the quantifiable ways that the racing changes and how cars adapt to these conditions. Project Cars has a distinctly simulation feel to it, regardless of how many of the sliders and options you change to make it easier on yourself. Contrarily you can turn them all up, and really go for a life-like experience with realistic handling, damage, and AI habits. Everything is customizable in Project Cars, it’s incredibly fun to tinker with.
A myriad of viewing perspectives can be used in Project Cars, but the most impressive are those from the interior. One of the very most stunning is a first-person perspective from inside the racing helmet that appears to have been included for those who will be playing the game on VR devices, of which Project Cars will support Oculus Rift and Sony’s Morpheus. Inside or out of the car, Project Cars is a stunning game, visually. The different times of day and varying conditions that you’ll encounter, make the already burgeoning track list seem that much bigger.
And that track list is massive. You’ve got nearly every single track you could hope for as a racing fan. The fabled Nürburgring Nordschleife, Laguna Seca, Donnington, Hockenheim, Watkins Glen, and many, many others as well as variations of them. The inclusion of all these real world tracks are supplemented by a handful of the developer’s own creations. Bottom line though, there’s a ton of variety to be found in Project Cars tracks, and it’s hard to look at this list and do anything but applaud Slightly Mad for getting so many real world tracks in the game to hammer home the simulation aspect. They all drive differently with different vehicles, obviously, and it’s a lot of fun to test and tune with the different available cars. Project Cars and its immense amount of tracks is the type of game that would spur you to buy a racing wheel for even more immersion. And the game supports all of them, I’m assuming. While I didn’t play Project Cars with a racing wheel (although it made me wish I owned one), the options menu has a ton of custom set-ups for wheels from various manufacturers.
Project Cars gets a lot of stuff right, but it can’t be overlooked that this game’s car selection feels a little limited. Not that they don’t cover all the bases, but when you stack Project Cars’ available car list against other racers, it’s pretty paltry. Licensing fees are likely one of the major reasons that you don’t see popular brands like Porsche, Lamborghini, or Ferrari in Project Cars, but they do a good job of making up for it in a lot of areas, offering cars and makers that you may not have heard of. There are plenty that you have though — McClaren, Lotus, Mercedes, Aston Martin, BMW, Pagani, there are plenty of recognizable vehicles and car makers on the roster, it’s just that those that are missing, are obvious. With so many great tracks on hand, a bigger list of cars would have been nice.
The collaboration between Slightly Mad Studios and its community of fans have led to fantastic results. Project Cars is one the best, and most authentic racing experiences we’ve seen in quite some time.
- Available On: Xbox One, PS4, PC
- Published By: Bandai Namco
- Developed By: Slightly Mad Studios
- Genre: Racing Simulator
- US Release Date: May 12th, 2015
- Reviewed On: PC
- Quote: "The collaboration between Slightly Mad Studios and its community of fans have led to fantastic results. Project Cars is one the best, and most authentic racing experiences we've seen in quite some time."